Stroll on State Returns Live in Rockford

A nearly decade-long tradition in Rockford will return on Nov. 27, the Saturday following Thanksgiving, as Stroll on State brings thousands of people together downtown for a parade, live music, a visit from Santa, fireworks and much more. Last year’s event was virtual due to the pandemic.

“We’re excited to have a traditional in-person Stroll on State event planned for this year,” says Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara. “It’s one of my favorite events because it’s a powerful example of the welcoming nature of Rockford, as we unite for an entertaining and enjoyable kickoff to the holiday season. Most importantly, Stroll illustrates the diverse and progressive spirit of our city, providing a unique opportunity for visitors and residents alike to join together in celebration.”

The unofficial event kick-off is the Dasher Dash, a holiday-themed 5K Run/Walk through Rockford’s downtown district. It starts at noon on Nov. 27. The event officially kicks off with a parade at 2 p.m. followed by all sorts of fun until 9 p.m. The parade will feature floats, festive music and costumed characters including Mr. and Mrs. Claus. This is a family-friendly parade that combines balloons, bands, princesses, elves, antique vehicles and more. At 8 p.m., a fireworks display will be launched from the Jefferson Street Bridge.

As in previous years, the Stroll on State team will transform downtown Rockford into a winter wonderland. Visitors will enjoy new and traditional attractions including live entertainment, vendors and special activities like s’more stations and ice carvings. The free event is made possible by 22 sponsors.

One major change this year involves the tree lighting. Instead of focusing on one giant tree in the heart of downtown, the tree-lighting ceremony will be divided into three events at 5, 6 and 7 p.m. at three locations. This will allow crowds to spread out and families with young children to work around their own schedules more easily. Each stage will host a holiday story-time reading, a visit from Santa, live music and the tree lighting.

The 5 p.m. tree-lighting ceremony will take place at the Silver Bell Tree and Stage at Eddie Green Place on the corner of 1st and East State streets; The 6 p.m. ceremony will be at the Rockford City Tree, sponsored by the Northwestern Illinois Building Trades, at Davis Park; and the 7 p.m. ceremony will take place at the Jingle Bell Tree and Stage at the corner of North Main and Mulberry streets.

Live music by local artists will begin at 2 p.m. and will conclude at 9 p.m. on several stages.

Santa visits will be done differently this year to help keep kids healthy. In prior years, kids and families waited in line for up to an hour to visit with Santa. This year, Santa Claus will explore the grounds of Stroll on State. He plans to see kids during story time readings at the three stages and he may even be seen serving hot chocolate and s’mores, visiting his reindeer or riding a Zamboni.

Even after the Stroll festivities wrap up, Santa Claus will make his way through Rockford on a City of Rockford fire truck, spreading Christmas cheer on three Saturdays – Dec. 4, 11 and 18. Routes and approximate times will be released each week on and Stroll on State Facebook pages.

Sky Lights Fireworks will launch from the Jefferson Street Bridge this year at 8 p.m. They’ll be visible from anyplace in the festival that’s within view of the bridge.

Other Stroll on State attractions include the showcasing of ice sculptures by Randy Finch and the Ice Brigades outside the Rockford Register Star building, and Fire & Ice, a spectacle of ice blocks dissolving into beautiful bonfires that create an enchanting display at the corner of East State and North 2nd streets and outside of Veterans Memorial Hall. S’mores stations will be set up in four locations throughout the event.

Horse & Wagon rides will make a continuous loop on the west side of the Rock River with pickup and drop-off locations near the corner of Wyman and Elm streets. Two holiday markets will host local retail and food vendors.

Stroll on State takes place in conjunction with Small Business Saturday, an annual holiday tradition that urges shoppers to support locally owned retailers and restaurants. Locally owned businesses throughout the River District will offer holiday specials and fun events.

Find a full list of events and attractions at ❚